Food : Art :: Alinea

by Mara @ What's For Dinner? on March 3, 2011

in beef, dinner out, friends, pork, vegetables

I’ve waxed poetic about meals before.

I’ve said before that a dinner was “the best ever”.

I was wrong.

I was invited by the lovely Jackie from I Am A Feeder to join her during the Chicago leg of her “great adventure” for the experience that is dinner at Alinea, the famous restaurant by chef Grant Achatz. I couldn’t say no! I began saving for the meal over two months ago, putting a few dollars away every few days. Before I knew it, the day had arrived.

After work, I picked up my lovely date for the evening, and we drove down to Alinea. All we had was an address, and a vague idea as to what the restaurant looked like. It’s an unmarked building, with a hidden valet placard indicating that it was, indeed, the restaurant we were looking for.

IMG_0044

Upon pulling open the steel double doors, I was nearly slack-jawed as we walked down the red-lit, wavy-walled hallway. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen outside of a modern art museum. It was just beginning though. The hallway had a door on the left side, which slid open like an airlock door in Star Trek. We were greeted by a friendly hostess who took our coats, and led us upstairs to one of the many small dining rooms.

We had a brief photo shoot, full of anticipation for the meal to come

IMG_0046

IMG_0104

After a brief greeting from one of our many servers for the evening and a few questions about dietary restrictions, the dinner experience began. Each course was described by one word and a few ingredients, and were accompanied by instructions on how to eat each one.

We began with edible cocktails.

IMG_0048

LEMON: luxardo bitter, luxardo amaro, grapefruit

An icy-cold cocktail, eaten off a pin

IMG_0051

APPLE: laird’s apple brandy, grenadine, thyme, served in a poached apple

A tiny poached apple filled with house-made grenadine and brandy

IMG_0050

SQUASH: cynar, carpano antica, flor de cana 7 year

A silky-smooth square of squash mousse topped with rum foam

I opted to have a glass of wine with dinner (because, honestly, how couldn’t I) and I was surprised with a champagne cocktail with bitters, honey, and citrus.

IMG_0053

And then the adventure continued…

IMG_0052

Pillows for each courses’ designated flatware

IMG_0056

STEELHEAD ROE: dijon, rutabaga, grapefruit

The smoothest soup of squash, laden with hand-harvested roe, spheres of dijon, licorice, and radish

IMG_0057

YUBA: shrimp, miso, togarashi

Fried tofu skin wrapped with shrimp in a rich miso sauce

IMG_0060

URCHIN: watercress, vanilla, mint

Sea urchin surrounded by vanilla gelee, topped with mint, pepper, and roe. Bowl contains a watercress soup topped with pepper foam

These flags were brought to the table as a centerpiece, but we were told they’d be interactive later. The curiosity just kept building

IMG_0065

IMG_0066

BASS: black pepper, coffee, lemon

While all these are shades of white, the variety of flavors was incredible. Coffee cream, lemon spheres, black pepper foam, all atop perfectly cooked bass

The next course came with three elements in one beautiful spherical dish.

IMG_0068

RABBIT: Parfait

Rabbit gelee, sunflower seeds, onion, butternut squash

IMG_0070

RABBIT: Rillette

Squash puree, mushroom, panko-crusted rabbit rillette

IMG_0074

RABBIT: consommé

A richly-flavored broth, infused with cinnamon, sage, and kept warm with a hot rock

IMG_0078

HOT POTATO: cold potato, black truffle, butter

Rich cold potato soup, hot potato sphere, black truffle, parmesan served in a wax cup. The pin was slowly pulled out, the small bites went into the soup, and it was eaten in one shot.

IMG_0079

A short wait later, this arrived.

garnish

And then this happened:

IMG_0083

The “flags” were actually tomato-infused pasta

The pasta was then filled

IMG_0084

SHORT RIB: olive, red wine, blackberry

This was topped with the small bits of condiments from the glass plate.

IMG_0085

From left top: smoked salt, blackberry, grilled onion, black garlic, pickled turnip, nicsoise olive, and cherry. On the spoon: distilled tobacco gelee, in the middle a ribbon of turnip, and sauce of tomato and cream.

IMG_0086

Devoured as a pasta roll-up

IMG_0090 IMG_0088

HAMACHI: west Indes spices, banana, ginger

Hamachi (yellowtail) with ginger and banana, fried, and served on a bay branch

IMG_0093

A lovely red wine arrived to accompany the next course.

IMG_0097

CANARD: a la Cussy

A 300-year-old recipe with duck, fois gras, braised cockscomb, wine sauce, and puff pastry topped with crispy duck skin

IMG_0099

There’s a course hiding amongst the eucalyptus…

IMG_0100

VENISON: cherry, cocoa nib, eucalyptus

The tender meat, sweet cherry, and bitter cocoa nib along with the aroma of the warm eucalyptus leaves made for one perfect bite.

IMG_0103

BLACK TRUFFLE: explosion, romaine, parmesan

They warned us to eat this in one bite with our mouths closed. The raviolo burst in my mouth and covered every millimeter with the decadence that is black truffle.

IMG_0106

SNOW: yuzu

A palate-cleanser made from liquid nitrogen-frozen yuzu juice in a whimsical “snow cone”

IMG_0109

IMG_0111

SWEET POTATO: cedar, bourbon, pecan

The heated cedar plank added aroma to this perfection of a dish. The puff on top? Cayenne cotton candy. Cinnamon gel, sweet potato mousse, brown sugar… need I say more?

IMG_0113

I think this says it all… we decided to call this shot “pure wonder and joy”.

IMG_0114

LEMONGRASS: dragonfruit, finger lime, cucumber

This kaleidoscope was eaten in one slurp, which combined the sweet dragonfruit, basil, lemongrass, and cucumber in one perfect mouthful.

IMG_0125

BACON: butterscotch, apple, thyme

Salty, sweet, and whimsical, this one made me giggle, until I ate it. Then I was without words.

IMG_0123

NUTELLA: bread, banana, chocolate

This dehydrated bite became Nutella upon eating

IMG_0124

LYCHEE: jasmine tea

Instead of fruit leather, this was fruit plastic, dusted with powdered sugar.

Our table was then covered in a rubber sheet. Then these small bowls and plates arrived.

IMG_0128

There was an idea as to what was to come, but we couldn’t wait to see for ourselves. A chef came over (Chef Achatz came to the table next to ours; we were hoping he’d come to us too) and began to assemble our dessert on the tabletop in front of us.

Purees were painted on, cream was dotted, blueberry nut powder was left in small piles…

IMG_0130

Liquid nitrogen-frozen chocolate mousse was brought over and engulfed our table in vapor…

IMG_0131

Dehydrated blueberry was added

IMG_0132

Was it art or was it food?

IMG_0134

It just kept getting better, when the chef sprinkled creme anglaise disks with sugar and bruleéd it

IMG_0135

IMG_0136

IMG_0137

CHOCOLATE: blueberry, honey, peanut

We ate right off the table. Each bite was a mystery as to what we’d be tasting, and each one better than the one before it.

IMG_0138

IMG_0143-2

We were on a mission…

IMG_0145

…And scene.

To say that this was the meal of my life is an understatement. Each and every course brought a sense of amazement and wonder that I had never experienced in a meal. Both Jackie and I said multiple times that it was like being a little kid and discovering things for the first time. There was no menu when we sat down, so there was no idea what was coming next. There were tastes and textures combined in single bites that I never would’ve thought to combine. I am not exaggerating when I say that each bite was an adventure.

Thank you to Jackie for inviting me to join her for the meal that will go down as the best and most interesting I’ve ever had! I’m sure more words to describe this meal will come to me as time goes on, but as of now, I’m still relatively speechless.

For those who know me, speechless doesn’t happen often.

xoxo.jpg

signature.jpg



Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina March 3, 2011 at 2:48 PM

I’m without words too!! I have seen that Hot Potato dish (I think on The Best thing I ever ate??) where it was described how you pull the pin out. How cool! The whole thing seems like a trip to an amusement park of food!
Christina´s last blog post ..Vegetable and Quinoa Bake

Reply

Krystal R. March 3, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I’m in total awe of your entire meal from start to finish…everything looked like spectacular food porn. What an incredible dining experience indeed!!

Reply

Mandy March 3, 2011 at 4:52 PM

Wow, Mara! That definitely looks like the most interesting, delicious, artsy meal EVER! I’m so jealous! I really wouldn’t even know how to eat some of those things;)
Mandy´s last blog post ..Somebodys got a birthday

Reply

Brianna March 3, 2011 at 5:53 PM

Wow! Beautiful and intriguing! Thanks for sharing! I’d love to experience that meal.
Brianna´s last blog post ..Black Bean Tostadas

Reply

Mara @ What's For Dinner? March 3, 2011 at 6:25 PM

It was beyond anything I could’ve imagined! If you make it to Chicago, you should go!

Reply

Brianna March 3, 2011 at 10:39 PM

Chicago is at the top of my list of food-destinations! :) But I’ll wait until the weather is warmer because I’m a California cold wimp :)
Brianna´s last blog post ..Black Bean Tostadas

Reply

VeggieGirl March 3, 2011 at 6:30 PM

I just picked my jaw up from off the floor…. I’ve never EVER ever seen such immaculately presented food before. What an experience of a lifetime for your taste buds and eyes!
VeggieGirl´s last blog post ..The Moment of Truth

Reply

Melissa @ TryingToHeal March 3, 2011 at 8:39 PM

oh.my.god. i can’t…no words.

and i’m freak’n jealous.
Melissa @ TryingToHeal´s last blog post ..iHerb Giveaway

Reply

Christin@purplebirdblog March 3, 2011 at 9:26 PM

I can understand how words couldn’t do this justice… I’m just glad you were able to capture it so well in photos so we could imagine what a fine experience this truly was!
Christin@purplebirdblog´s last blog post ..Chocolate and Tahini Oat Bran

Reply

Cate March 3, 2011 at 9:48 PM

WOW! Thank you so much for documenting this…. I cannot imagine what the whole experience must have been like but this definitely gives me a great glimpse.
Cate´s last blog post ..Cheesy Tomato Penne Bake

Reply

Nordic Nibbler March 4, 2011 at 7:56 AM

Alinea will always have such a special place in my heart. I went last year and had perhaps the best meal of my life. Your meal there looks like the stuff of dreams. Hmm, I feel another trip to Chi-town coming on…
Nordic Nibbler´s last blog post ..Maaemo- Oslo – Restaurant Review

Reply

Amy March 4, 2011 at 8:09 AM

Dy-ing. After reading this I have two thoughts. 1. I must go and break my rules of spending THAT much $$ on food. 2. This isn’t food, it’s art and must be experienced. Your photos and descriptions have totally whet my appetite and fueled my curiosity to save some cash for a few months and make a reso. SO GLAD you went and thank you for documenting it so well.
Amy´s last blog post ..Grilled Polenta with Mushroom Ragu

Reply

Roz March 4, 2011 at 12:14 PM

HOLY WOW!!!!!!! This looks like the most AMAZING meal EVER!!! Thank you SO much for the stellar pictures that capture it all. Incredible. So glad you got to experience it!!!
Roz´s last blog post ..Let the Birthday Celebrations continue!!

Reply

Biz March 4, 2011 at 6:56 PM

Okay – two questions Mara:

1. were you hungry leaving because of the tiny portions?
2. just curious how much a dinner like that set you back!

Have a great weekend!
Biz´s last blog post ..He’s Home!

Reply

Mara @ What's For Dinner? March 4, 2011 at 6:59 PM

We were absolutely STUFFED after the meal. I was worried I’d be hungry after the tiny bites, but they all added up to a great-sized meal. The list price for their menu is $195, so plus a wine, tax, and tip, it was $235. That’s why I saved for 2.5 months!!

Reply

Jenn@slim-shoppin March 4, 2011 at 10:37 PM

What a great experience! I never knew the restaurant was so nondescript from the outside. Amazing photos, I can see why you are speechless over it!!

The food plating is incredible!

Reply

Miri Leigh March 5, 2011 at 1:15 AM

Wow- what a fantastic mixture between art and food this is! Thanks for posting!
Miri Leigh´s last blog post ..12 Days of Bali… Day 12- The Highlights Video!

Reply

Andrea (Off Her Cork) March 5, 2011 at 9:17 AM

The pics are gorgeous Mara! What an adventure!
Andrea (Off Her Cork)´s last blog post ..Making burgers with Josh Ozersky

Reply

Christina March 5, 2011 at 9:31 AM

Everything looks so beautiful! This was definitely art!
Christina´s last blog post ..A Burger on the Grill

Reply

MarathonVal March 6, 2011 at 12:05 AM

WOW Mara, I’m so excited for you to have such an amazing opportunity…. but next time sneak me in with you will ya? ;)

Alinea is, of course, the #1 restaurant on my list and who knows if I’ll ever get there but it’s fun to think about. That night at Tru was absolutely spectacular beyond words!
MarathonVal´s last blog post ..Risotto and Game Night

Reply

Alice March 6, 2011 at 7:57 PM

RIDICULOUS!!! how awesome!
Alice´s last blog post ..Banner Wars

Reply

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: